Ikea and the pursuit of everyday wonder: How the retailer revived its fortunes

Ikea and Mother went back to basics to turn around the brand's decline.

IKEA: The Wonderful Everyday

This story starts in 2012, when Ikea was a brand that we all thought we knew inside and out. But this overfamiliarity was beginning to have negative effects. The health of the Ikea business wasn’t as rosy as it once was, with some seriously worrying metrics looming. Playing the wacky Swede in the UK for years, Ikea had never been given its full worth. It remained fun or frustrating, depending on your point of view, but little else. Years of successful and award-winning work weren’t enough. The brand was in a long, slow decline. The new management team decided to re-evaluate its strategic direction in 2013, without which the Ikea business may have contracted – something never experienced in the UK. 

Through investigation and interrogation, we challenged our collective understanding of the brand, its role in everyday life at home and the power of furniture itself. We created a strategic platform, which was launched in January 2014, that allowed us to imbue the brand’s behaviour and communication with the meaning and purpose of its founding principles. We used rich insights into consumers’ relationships with their homes, and deep understanding of the brand’s roots, to challenge the accepted wisdoms of everyday life.

"The wonderful everyday" has already had a significant impact not just on Ikea’s communication and brand performance, but the whole UK business. This is the tale of a platform created to endure through honesty and ambition, and a lot of frank discussion between Ikea and its agency Mother. 

The issue

Thirty years ago, Ikea was the Swedish revolution that weaned us off chintz and transformed British home-furnishings taste forever. More than 13 million mattresses (and one in five conceptions in Britain) later, we weren’t looking quite so stylish or avant-garde.

The optimist saw flat or declining metrics post-recession, but to us a more concerning picture was emerging: vital signs were struggling. Front-of-mind awareness was slipping (declining five percentage points between 2008 and 2013), while our flat-pack modernism was falling out of favour – across the key purchase-drivers of trust, price and likeability, the brand was 10% to 20% behind competitors, and brand penetration had fallen six percentage points, from 36% in 2008 to 30% in 2013. 

These metrics were, not surprisingly, significantly more pronounced among lapsed customers – exactly the cohort we were trying to win back. The resulting effect on sales growth was marked, with rates halving year on year. 

Despite delivering business impact and brand fame, Ikea’s most effective work to date wasn’t working hard enough. Something fundamental had to change to meet the 8% growth targets. With new management in place, we were able to take an objective look across four key "levers": 

Pricing
"Prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them" is at Ikea’s core, so we invested in lowering prices consistently year on year (which wasn’t always the case).

Distribution
A renewed focus on ecommerce removed some of the barriers around experience and accessibility, but no new physical stores were planned. 

Range
Overall strategy wasn’t going to change, but there would be improvements in market-specific bedroom ranges (UK sizes) and rebuilding our in-store presentation to better reflect the everyday message (from product-centric to home-furnishing solutions). 

Marketing communications 
With other improvements in progress, marketing communications was identified as the lever that could have the greatest impact, most quickly, in helping the brand accelerate toward its 8% year-on-year sales step change. But there was a small problem: due to media-cost inflation, reach would remain static, or even decline. The key variable, therefore, would be a shift in our strategy.

The insight

Beyond the bright, shiny colours

We knew too much about the brand to be objective; we lived and breathed Ikea. We all knew the best-value products, shortcuts in store and quality pieces nobody expected to be from the brand. So, for perspective, we commissioned a study across Ikea fans and Ikea rejecters. 

  • Ethnographic-style shopping research, groups with conflicting views and online forums uncovered these issues:
  • An image problem with lapsed customers (now we knew why).
  • A quality and value-for-money challenge (driven by our affordable flat-pack range).
  • Meaning too little to consumers beyond quirky or minimalist products.
  • Our biggest fans shopped only part of the range and relished regaling lapsed shoppers with epic urban legends of Ikea nightmares.

While each posed a serious risk to future brand health and growth, it was the fourth that worried us the most: even our fans found little beyond durability and storage to justify their shop. Ikea lacked substance and meaning at a time when home-furnishing trends pointed to storytelling, and when the cultural tide had well and truly turned toward authenticity and experience. All the insight pointed to one thing: in 2013, Ikea had a weak brand. › 

The process

Returning to our roots

For all the historical, wacky Swedish comms Ikea had produced in the UK, the brand had never truly been introduced to UK consumers. Having always been the "other" to the British cultural norm of the day (chintz, beige or showy design), we had never really told anyone who we were. So who is Ikea?

A global behemoth led by an enigmatic founder, the brand’s culture emanates from Älmhult, the icy Swedish town where it was founded. An isolated place, with principles of frugality, social democracy and farmers’ common sense. We had to visit and, in February 2013, we did.

Älmhult was snowy and wonderful, and, through museum visits, conversations with designers and time spent in Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad’s house with the brand storyteller himself, we discovered an Ikea that we had never seen before.

It had been staring us, and every agency before us, in the face. In every brand manual, catalogue, piece of internal comms and Ikea office we had ever visited. It had been there since Kamprad founded the business in 1943. An enduring brand purpose that informed everything Ikea had ever done: "To create a better everyday life for the many people."

It seemed crazy to think we had only ever read this statement at face value. From the outside looking in, it just explained low-cost flat-pack, cinnamon buns and hot dogs. But from inside, at the heart of the brand, it suddenly said so much more.

Hook, line and sinker

A conversation with an Ikea designer gave us an insight into how we could make this brand purpose relevant to UK consumers, and transform the brand (see box, below). The "hook story" isn’t an epic story, it’s an everyday one. Its impact is wonderful for the family in question, but negligible to anyone else. And its positive effect only grows over time. The hook story taught us humility. It taught us to think like an Ikea designer and recognise the impact that tiny changes to your home can have on your everyday life and, ultimately, your happiness.

Suddenly, we were challenging everything we thought we knew. The hook story illuminated the brand purpose in action and, in doing so, gave us a brand truth that we could leverage: Ikea exists for one thing, and one thing only – to improve the "everyday".

The hook story

Wrestling kids into their outdoor clothes every morning takes time and causes arguments. However, in Sweden, the challenge is compounded by the fact that harsh winters mean layer upon layer of snowsuits, hats, gloves, scarves and thick boots. Every snowy day brings tears and tantrums when it’s time to get dressed to go out. 

In Älmhult, an Ikea designer explained that the solution to these daily arguments was a simple coat hook. Not a special coat hook, just a standard, run-of-the-mill coat hook that costs about €1. 

The secret? Simply putting the coat hook at your child’s height. This way they can be like mummy or daddy, they can take their clothes from their own hook and get dressed for themselves. 

With the kids now keen to get dressed for themselves, the process of leaving the house in winter becomes quicker and much less fraught. This not only stops arguments and tantrums, but also gives you 10 more minutes in the morning to enjoy together. 

All of a sudden, this wasn’t just a coat hook after all. 

The plan

Initially, we responded in the spring/summer of 2013 with a campaign focus on the brand’s design output, which was, in hindsight, bordering on sycophantic product-centricity. We had momentarily lost sight of our consumers’ appetite for engaging communication that had previously powered us.

We went back to the drawing board with one objective: creating an enduring platform idea that would inspire consistently great creative work to drive brand reappraisal now and in the long term. This was change we knew wouldn’t happen overnight.

Our task was to transform an internal brand truth into an external brand platform – a simple expression of the everyday benefit that Ikea helps deliver. We settled on "The wonderful everyday".

Feeding the platform

Our communication needed to show we understood life at home better than anyone else. But, clearly, mirroring everyday life would never be enough. We had to treat it with the sense of magic that showed how much we valued it and believed it really could be wonderful.

Media

Communications needed to reimagine the role Ikea played in customers’ hearts and homes, providing two core roles for media:

To inspire: by appealing to customers’ hearts
To deliver an emotional punch, starting in February 2014 we ran a series of individual 60-second TV spots to establish our point of view at its boldest. These were scheduled during high-profile, linear TV programming. To keep "everyday-on", we "pulsed" at a lighter weight, with 20- and 10-second cut-downs. With high TV price inflation and declining traditional TV viewing, we also moved spend to video-on-demand and cinema. ›

To engage: by demonstrating a role in customers’ homes
To offer reasons for consideration, we set out to illustrate just how Ikea could enable people to create a better life at home themselves. We developed customer-segment-specific solutions based on their lifestyle – from the parents of young children saving time to upwardly mobile men demonstrating their eye for design – delivered with the targeting data available from Facebook and Instagram, and supplemented by press to reach older audiences.

The action 

 "The wonderful everyday" packages the enduring beliefs and values of the Ikea brand for the public in a relevant and emotionally engaging way. Since its launch in January 2014, it has consistently shown that taking a long-term approach to brand-building pays off.

With a platform that was simple, full of Swedish wisdom about a good home life, yet emotionally rich, hyperbolic and joyful, Ikea bucked the industry trend of short-term chop and change by continuing to invest in "The wonderful everyday", working with the same group of agencies.

Now in its fourth year, "The wonderful everyday" also gave rise to a richer, broader and deeper range of creative ideas than ever, from beyond-emotional TV narratives to oversubscribed experiences and scroll-stopping social content. All the while it embodied the platform with the renewed depth it needed to drive consideration among lapsed audiences. 

The long-term view has paid dividends, with the platform uniting and guiding the work of seven agencies across the brand’s marketing. 

The challenges

Let’s start with an honest reflection or two. We didn’t get it right first time with our campaign, nor did we have the most wonderful of "working everydays" back at launch in 2014. 

The interagency group was exhausted; the cross-discipline client team likewise. Getting to an integrated campaign launch had been too arduous, too time-consuming and, ultimately, too complicated.

This is a familiar tale: a fraught interagency relationship and a divided marketing team client side, muddling through to get to a campaign that hangs together effectively, but none of them particularly relishing the journey to get there.

What sets this story apart is the mutuality of the decision not to just grin and bear it, but to be brave, to throw out the old way of working and to transform it. 

Ultimately, "The wonderful everyday" was never intended to be just an endline, but also an outward-facing expression of the brand’s founding vision – "To create a better everyday life"– and so we set out to apply this to our own way of working.

  • We overhauled our campaign-development processes, developed shared codes of conduct and ensured that everything we all did was in the service of the best possible work we could create together.
  • We overcame the challenges by looking beyond collaborative working best practice, learning from what wasn’t working, and centring our interactions, decisions and engagement on four key principles:
  • The opportunity is far greater than any individual interest.
  • Strategy comes to life in the little decisions we make every day.
  • Success comes from democracy of ideas and absolutism of decisions.
  • If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it; establish, nurture and promote a culture.

After all, shouldn’t how we work together be as wonderful as the work we create together?

The results

Since its launch in January 2014, with no shift in media share of voice, "The wonderful everyday" has helped Ikea to deliver at least 8% year-on-year sales growth over the three consecutive years to the end of 2016. By reimagining the brand, putting Ikea back in the heart of British homes, attracting more shoppers, more often, and across a wider range of Ikea products, it delivered the highest incremental sales that Ikea UK has ever experienced from marketing communications. It is exceeding all objectives.

The next stage 

Ultimately, this journey isn’t finished

"The wonderful everyday" has captivated the Ikea business in the UK: from HR and recruitment to in-store interior designers and everyone in-between. It is part of their vernacular as much as it is the brand platform for communications, across all channels, even gracing the front of the publication that is distributed twice as widely as The Bible – the Ikea Catalogue.

"The wonderful everyday" has also united the integrated agency team to deliver tighter, more effective and more transformative campaigns. It has produced results that have exceeded the ambitious global targets set. 

Yet despite this, we stick by Ingvar’s words and believe there’s still a lot to be done. And that’s where the true role of a tight client/agency team comes in. In the humility and rigour with which an enduring platform was created – not for the benefit of short-term campaign goals, but for the benefit of the brand long into the future. "The wonderful everyday" is a platform designed to endure – ultimately, to outlive any strategist, creative, business lead, producer or marketer working on the brand. 

And that’s what makes it so wonderful.


By Laurent Tiersen

Country marketing manager, Ikea UK & Ireland
Katie Mackay
Partner, Mother 

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